Eisner Outflanked by Fanatics as $600 Million Payday Foiled by MLB Players

·3 min read

It’s as if Mickey Mouse packed up and made camp over at Universal. Or maybe worse.

Dealmaker Michael Eisner’s latest trophy project was dealt a huge blow when the MLB Players Association decided not to renew its deal with Topps and instead team with Fanatics to offer licensed trading cards starting in 2026. Baseball and Topps have a long history—the cardmaker was one of the first companies to sign a deal with the MLBPA in the 1960s, and its relationship with Major League Baseball stretches back more than 70 years. Since 2009, Topps has had an exclusive deal with MLB for cards and collectibles, running through 2025. After that point, baseball players are all in with Fanatics.

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The news comes as Eisner, who owns Topps with private equity firm Madison Dearborn, is in the process of closing a deal to go public through a special purpose acquisition company Mudrick II. The transaction was going to be the culmination of 14 years of cultivation by the former Disney CEO and the Chicago asset manager. In the past year, Topps rode the collectibles craze to a $1.6 billion valuation by the Mudrick SPAC, four times what insiders said the company was worth three years ago.

Eisner, who looked set to finalize a $600 million payday with Topps going public, now is in danger of the SPAC deal going bad. The merger with Mudrick that takes Topps public isn’t closed yet. SPAC shareholders are set to vote on the transaction on next Wednesday. As is typical with SPACs, shareholders can opt to surrender their shares for IPO capital held in trust—around $10 a share until the deal is approved. They also can sell in the market: Mudrick II shares, which were trading at $11.24 mid-afternoon Thursday plunged on high volume to $10.03 after news of the Fanatics-MLBPA deal broke. They recovered modestly to finish at $10.09 on the day.

To be true, Topps’ business is more than just baseball cards. It has a candy business and is leaping into NFTs, digital mementos that have exploded onto the collecting scene in recent months.

“[Topps is] very well known for our baseball cards, but we have properties and products for various sports properties such as UEFA, Formula One. We also have long standing relationships with entertainment properties, such as Star Wars or WWE, and importantly, we’re very much a global business,” Topps CEO Michael Brandstaedter said in an April web presentation on the Topps-Mudrick deal.

Still, there’s little denying Topps and baseball player cards are deeply intertwined in consumers’ minds, as Eisner’s reminiscences during the same presentation belied.

“My brother ruined my Mickey Mantle ‘52 when he put it on his bike and went through a puddle, and I just realized that Topps also had this emotional connection with an audience,” Eisner told listeners.

It’s a good bet the Fanatics news will be another bad Topps memory for Eisner.